Yesterday’s whale watching fundraiser for the Marine Education and Research Society was a huge success, thanks to Jim and Mary Borrowman of Orcella Expeditions, and everyone who came out to support MERS… and of course, to the amazing wildlife of northern Vancouver Island!
The day dawned clear, calm, and fog-free – perfect conditions to head out and look for some wildlife. Not long after leaving Telegraph Cove, we were able to catch a glimpse of humpback whale blows hovering over the calm water… a sign of things to come for the day.
Blackney Pass and Blackfish Sound were full of humpbacks, sea lions, and schools of herring. As we approached a sea lion haul-out to have a look at the hundreds of Steller sea lions up on the rocks, we could see Slash the humpback whale’s calf, Stitch, doing full breaches in the distance, and had curious sea lions swimming all around the Gikumi.
Dense schools of herring, being fed on by gulls and murres, were forming throughout Blackfish Sound. As we waited near one of them, humpback whale “Guardian” did a spectacular lunge, erupting out of the water with his or her mouth wide open. As is clear from the photo below, Guardian missed a lot of the fish during the first lunge, so came back and lunged a few more times on the same school of herring.
Just as we finished an incredible lunch, we got a report that there were mammal-eating (transient) killer whales in the area… and that the killer whales were interacting with humpbacks! Five killer whales from the T049s (including a brand-new calf!) were swimming very close to humpback whales Guardian and Freckles.
It was difficult to determine exactly what was happening between these two species… at times, it appeared that the killer whales were following the humpback whales, and that the humpbacks were quite distressed, making loud, trumpeting vocalizations, and slashing their tails through the air. At other times, though, it appeared that the humpbacks were following the killer whales, perhaps to help the humpbacks keep track of these predators. As we watched, two other humpback whales (Twister and Moonstar) joined the group as well.
Mammal-eating killer whales are known to attack young humpback whales… some of the humpback whale fluke photos in the MERS humpback whale catalogue (available here) bear scars from killer whale teeth. However, all of the humpback whales that were interacting with the killer whales yesterday were adults or older juveniles, and so were likely not at risk of being eaten. Instead, the interaction may have been an effort by one species to intimidate or harass the other… but we do not know for sure.
Thanks again to everyone who came out to support the Marine Education and Research Society, and another huge thank you to Jim and Mary Borrowman! All proceeds from this trip will go directly to MERS’ research and education efforts which include population monitoring of humpback and minke whales, and mitigating the threats to these species. See our website for more information about our work.
~ Christie, Jared, Jackie, and the MERS team